A NEW PATH

This month and next I am officially beginning two part time jobs that in many respects will be a new path for me. This coming Sunday I am excited to be introduced as the part time pastor of senior adults at Washington Avenue Christian Church. I am also filled with anticipation to be the new teacher of the dual credit Bible class at Amarillo High School this coming school year. It is an elective class students may take for credit through Amarillo College.

The last 30 years I was the senior pastor of a church, and the 10 years before that I was the only minister of a church. Although I served for about five years as a youth minster under a senior minister, this will be my first experience serving as a member of a pastoral staff/team under a senior pastor. It will be a new path for me, but having been on the other side, I understand how it works and am eager to be a member of the team rather than the leader of the team.

Although I have been involved with senior adults all my 44 years of ministry, this will be the first time my primary focus will be on seniors. Since I stepped down from my previous church in 2014, I have read quite a bit about retirement and aging. And since we have been talking about this new position, I have focused my reading on senior adult ministry. I am eager to pour my heart and energy into caring about, challenging, encouraging, and ministering to and with seniors.

Although I have never taught in a high school, I was a youth minister for several years working with junior high and high school students. I was also an adjunct professor of Bible at Hope International University the last four years and mostly taught incoming freshman. Teaching in a public high school, however, will not be the same as teaching Bible at a Christian University or leading a youth group in a church setting. As I understand it, my challenge is to keep in mind the difference between teaching the Bible and teaching about the Bible–I am to teach about the Bible.

As excited and eager as I am about this new path, in all honesty, I am also nervous. And I’m not at all embarrassed about that. I was nervous when I began my youth ministry in 1970; I was nervous when I began my ministry in Philadelphia in 1975; and I was nervous when I began the process of planting a church in Southern California in 1984. I think it is both good and appropriate to be somewhat nervous as we begin a new path. As a matter of fact, I would be concerned if I wasn’t nervous.

Think of some of the new paths many of us have started down during our lives: going to high school, going to college, leaving home, getting married, having children, buying a house, and relocating to name a few.

I’m not the first person to begin a new job (even at the age of 66). Most who read this post will have done so as well. Here’s some advice to myself as I begin my new path: be grateful, keep your eyes open and make sure you listen, give your best effort, be gracious to everyone, love the people, enjoy the walk, and don’t stop being both excited and nervous.

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ARE YOU BIBLE-MINDED?

The Barna Research Group recently published the results of their study of the top Bible-Minded Cities and the Least Bible-Minded Cities in 2017. I wasn’t surprised by the results, but the results are not what interested me.

I was interested in what they mean by Bible-minded. Here is the explanation: “Individuals considered to be Bible-minded are those who report reading the Bible in the past week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches.” While the results with regard to the cities did not surprise me, I was surprised to learn that “Nationally, only 25 percent of the population is considered Bible-minded.”

Given their definition, are you Bible-minded? Do you read the Bible at least once a week and do you believe the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches? The first part of the question is easy to answer, but the second part is slippery. What makes it slippery is that not all Bible readers agree on the principles it teaches.

Certainly we should and do need to read the Bible. Pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson makes that clear when he writes, “Read the book!” I agree with the first part of his next sentence, but am uneasy with the second part of it: “The meaning is in the book; not in the information about the book.” Yes, the meaning is in the book, but the meaning is not always obvious.

Often we get help in understanding the meaning of the Bible by reading or hearing what others say about the book. As a Bible teacher, I was affirmed and encouraged by a reminder from John G. Stackhouse, Jr. in which he notes “God gave his people teachers, as the Bible itself affirms, precisely because much of the Bible is not easily understood.” As we read the Bible we can benefit in understanding the principles it teaches by consulting trusted teachers of the Bible.

I wish the research group’s description of what it means to be Bible-minded added a third criterion. To be Bible-minded, I would add one needs to submit to and obey the principles the Bible teaches. That’s Jesus point in his close to the Sermon on the Mount about two builders (Matthew 7:24-27). Hearing Jesus’ words and putting them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. But hearing Jesus’ words and not putting them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

It is not enough just to read the Bible. Nor is it enough just to believe the principles the Bible teaches are true. We need to apply them in our lives. Too often we read the Bible, and strongly assert the principles it teaches are accurate, but fail to allow what we have read to shape our lives. When that happens I’m not sure we are really Bible-minded. To be Bible-minded we have to read the Bible, believe that the principles it teaches are accurate, and put those principles into action.

Are you Bible-minded?

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ON GOING HOME

In their 2005 hit Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles ask the question, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?” I’m not sure who first said it, but I think it could have been Thomas Wolfe in his novel You Can’t Go Home Again written in 1934 and published posthumously in 1940. But even if Wolfe was the first one to say it, he wasn’t the only one. In a Google search I found at least seven songs with the title You Can’t Go Home Again.

I’m no song writer or novelist, but I agree with Wolfe and those who wrote the songs: you can’t go home again. Earlier this summer Jan and I took a trip to Cincinnati to visit her stepmother who was critically ill. We both were born in the Cincinnati area and lived there until we moved in 1975. We had a great visit—as we always do when we return; but since we left in 1975 it has never been the same on any visit. I actually got lost driving from the west side of town where Jan grew up to the north side of town where I grew up.

Last week Jan and I traveled back to Southern California where we lived for 32 years before we moved this past December. We visited our son, I played golf three times with old friends, we ate a number of meals with some 20 different people, and went to worship at the church we planted and I served as Senior Pastor for 30 years. Like our earlier visit to Cincinnati, we had a great visit and thoroughly enjoyed returning. Most of our meals were paid for, we were welcomed and affirmed at our former church, and even though the heat was unbearable, losing in golf didn’t take away the fun I had. But it wasn’t the same.

In 2005 our family returned to the Philadelphia area when my son play in the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship. I had served a church there from 1975 to 1984. Both our children were born during that time and we bought our first house. We loved the people and it was great to see so many of them after almost 20 years. But it wasn’t the same.

Again, I agree with those who say you can’t go home again. But in their song Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles also ask, “Who says you can’t go back?” I don’t think they are differentiating between “going home” and “going back”, but to me there is a difference. As a matter of fact, I’m sure you can go back; and I know going back can be good, healthy, and wonderful. It certainly has been for us. But “going back” is not the same as “going home”.

Each of three places Jan and I have called home during our lives hold a special place in our hearts and minds. We received much and were greatly impacted by the wonderful people. We also thank the Lord we were able to impact people and leave something as well in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Moreno Valley. We will certainly go back to California and Cincinnati and possibly Philadelphia—places that once were our home, but no longer are.

We have lived in Texas just over seven months and in our own house some four months, but as we were driving from California Sunday and Monday we were looking forward to getting back to Amarillo. There are a variety of reasons why this is now our home, but the primary one is because we moved here and made the decision it would be our home. And the longer we are here, the more it becomes home.

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FREEDOM, INDEPENDENCE, DEPENDENCE, AND INTERDEPENDENCE

I read a statement in an article by Charles E. Moore this week that got my attention and provoked some thinking on my part. He suggested “we must realize that freedom is not the same as independence.” Yet our holiday of July 4 is called “Independence Day” and is the occasion we celebrate our freedom as a nation. In his article, however, Moore wasn’t referring to our national celebration this Tuesday.

As followers of Jesus we are certainly free, but not independent. As a matter of fact, our freedom is the result of our declaration of dependency on the Lord. That’s what we do when we come to faith in Christ and commit to following him. The freedom I have in mind is our freedom from guilt and deserved punishment for our sin—doing things God has instructed us not to do as well as leaving out of our lives things God has asked us to do. Generally speaking, most of us focus more on sins of commission and tend to ignore sins of omission. In Christ we are forgiven for both.

We are free in Christ, but as Moore points out, “we are not free to do whatever we want regardless of others.” As Christians we are members of the body of Christ and of one another. That means we are not independent, but interdependent. As fellow members of the body of Christ we need each other.

The New Testament stresses our interdependence with a variety of specific “one another” instructions regarding our mutual responsibilities. The foundation of our interdependence is Jesus’ command: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another” (John 13:35b). The other “one another” instructions give concrete examples of how we are to love one another.  A sampling of those include “accept one another” (Romans 15:7), “serve one another” (Galatians 5:13), “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), “encourage one another and build each other up” (I Thessalonians 5:12), “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other” (James 5:16), and “offer hospitality to one another” (I Peter 4:9)

Admittedly, it is a challenge to live out our interdependence today. Many go to church, and are members of a church, but do not engage in the “one another” instructions. Its takes time and effort, and we have to be open and willing. It’s not the only way to do it, but many church members are able to practice interdependence through participation in a small group.

On Tuesday I will be celebrating our nation’s independence and our freedom. I am grateful to live in this country and enjoy the privileges we have. But I also realize I am dependent upon the Lord and interdependent with other believers. I celebrate that every week; and I am also thankful for both.

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